In a move designed to support its local restaurant industry, the District of Tofino has announced plans to transform an RV parking lot adjacent to the municipal hall into an ‘al fresco’ dining park.
Tofino is expecting tourists to begin trickling into town this month after a lengthy absence caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but social distancing requirements will limit the amount of space restaurants have to serve customers.
“We know that dining is a big part of Tofino’s draw as a destination and forms a big part of the visitor experience while they’re here and it is a real concern that an undersupply of seating is likely to result in a negative experience for visitors,” said Tofino’s Manager of Public Spaces, Cultural and Visitor Initiatives April Froment in a presentation to the town’s council on June 1.
Froment explained that the district became aware that a lack of outdoor eating areas for customers to enjoy takeout food presents “a very real risk to the viability of that sector” through the recently struck Mayor’s Economic Task Force as well as a roundtable discussion hosted by the Tofino Long Beach Chamber of Commerce.
She said the RV parking lot was identified as a feasible area for a ‘pop up’ dining park and added that, if more space is needed, other areas could be explored as well, like the nearby Village Green and a parking area at the corner of Neill Street and Second Street. She said the dining areas would remain public and would not be affiliated with any specific businesses, but would provide an area for residents and visitors to enjoy take-out food from restaurants or homemade lunches.
“This would be beyond privately created or operated restaurant patios and would offer visitors a fresh air option that they may be more comfortable with,” she said, adding picnic tables and planters would be brought in to beautify the area. “We want to make it a pleasant experience, something where people want to go sit down and not that they’re relegated to a parking lot as sort of a consolation table…With many seasonal festivals and events cancelled, the pop up park is also an opportunity to engage artists to enrich the visitor experience through temporary displays and occasional music.”
She noted the project is still under development and “has a few moving parts” as well as “uncertainties and risks,” including staff time.
“The district is currently working with a reduced number of staff and all efforts will need to be made to minimize any additional demands on regular district operations, but it’s unrealistic to think that there won’t be some impact,” she said.
She added that, if the project moves ahead, the district estimates the dining park could be set up as early as June 15 and remain in place into September, but staff would need to engage community partners and contractors to ensure the area was properly monitored and maintained.
“We need to minimize any involvement, if possible, from regular district staff. They’re fully committed right now to keeping the other wheels turning,” she said adding cleaning services would need to be contracted. “It’s not going to be wiped down after every diner, but of course some level of cleaning and upkeep would need to take place so we’re looking at how we can best do that.”
She said all costs associated with the dining park, including a possible coordinator position, would be paid for with Resort Municipality Initiative funding.
In an email to the Westerly News after the meeting, Froment suggested 10 locally made cedar picnic tables would be purchased for $600 each and would be repurposed to other areas once the dining park is no longer needed.
She said a total budget for the project, including cleaning, recycling and waste removal, was not yet known, but reiterated that all money spent would come from RMI.
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